In a new experiment, North Carolina’s Duke University intends giving 20GB iPods to each of its 1,650 incoming new students on August 19.

The plan is described as "part of an initiative to encourage creative uses of technology in education and campus life."

These student iPods will be preloaded with Duke-related content, such as information for freshman orientation and the academic calendar. Through a special Duke Web site modelled on Apple's iTunes site, students can download faculty-provided course content, including language lessons, music, recorded lectures and audio books. They also will be able to purchase music there.

Innovate, educate… replicate?

Duke officials described the deal as a pilot program between Duke and Apple. It will be evaluated after a year. Duke is paying for it with "strategic planning funds that it has set aside for one-time innovative technology purposes," the University said.

The total cost of the project is expected to reach $500,000, which includes hiring an academic computing specialist for the project, grant funding for faculty, associated research costs and buying the iPods (which Apple is providing to Duke at a discount).

Creative IT

"This iPod pilot program is an exciting new component of Duke's strategic plan, which seeks to use information technology in innovative ways within the classroom and across the campus," said Provost Peter Lange, the university's senior academic officer. "We're limiting our distribution to this single student intake because it will make it easier for us to evaluate their experience relative to other students and determine whether the iPods promoted educational innovation as we hope," he added.

"We're approaching this as an experiment – one we hope will motivate our faculty and students to think creatively about using digital audio content and a mobile computing environment to advance educational goals in the same way that iPods and similar devices have had such a big impact on music distribution," said Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president for information technology.

"We think the power and flexibility of these devices offer some real advantages over other media used to distribute educational content such as CDs and DVDs."

Explore the possible

The University hopes students and tutors will explore ways to use the technology as an asset for lessons and non-curricular work, with course materials and a student speaking newspaper suggested. They also expect some impact on the way lessons are taught, as multimedia becomes more usable.

Lynne O'Brien, director of Duke's Center for Instructional Technology said: "The iPod project will encourage faculty to experiment with adding elements such as music, foreign language and poetry to class curricula."

"We will be inviting faculty to submit project ideas early in the autumn semester," she said.

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